In a heart wrenching scene in the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionaire, hot oil is poured in a boy’s eyes so that he can earn more as a blind beggar.
But does this happen in real life too?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered an investigation into the alleged child beggar mafia in Mumbai after the PMO received the clipping of a British tabloid newspaper article about healthy limbs of beggar children being amputated from a farmer-turned-Methodist preacher from Somerset in the United Kingdom.
On January 24, The Daily Mail published an article Real Slumdog Millionaires: Mafia Gangs Crippling Children For Profit describing how street children in India are deliberately crippled by gangs so they can earn extra money begging.
“We are aware that children are being forced to beg. There are children without legs and hands begging at railway stations in Mumbai,” said Santosh Shinde, executive director of child rights organisation Balprafulta in Andheri “I think it’s obvious that it is taking place.”
Preacher Geoff Chapman (64) told Hindustan Times on the telephone that he was so shocked by the article that he posted a clipping to the Prime Minister’s Office, along with a letter, which read: “If you want India to be regarded as a civilized, modern state in the eyes of the rest of the world… you must take steps to eradicate this evil from your nation.”
The letter set the ball rolling.
A director in the PMO wrote to the Ministry of Women and Child Development in Delhi on February 3, demanding an investigation into the matter. Subsequently, a director from the ministry wrote to the state secretary Vijay Satbir Singh on February 19 requesting an immediate report.
Singh said he had written to Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor, then state Home Secretary Chitkala Zutshi and State Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Meenakshi Jaswail.
“I don’t know whether it is happening,” Singh said. “We need to investigate. The Centre wants to know if it is true and if it is what measures we should be contemplate to stop this exploitation.”
Zutshi told HT on March 20: “We have alerted the police and we will ensure this does not happen in Maharashtra.” On Tuesday, Jaswail and Gafoor said that inquiries were on and they would soon be submitting reports.
Chapman said though Manmohan Singh has not yet responded he was delighted to hear the matter was being investigated. “I am surprised they did not know it was happening.”